Stray Western…

Sooooo, the muse ambushed me with this…

Comments/recommendations appreciated as always. This one is truly stream of consciousness (and about 9 hours of research)… sigh

Business before Pleasure


Rio rode up to the Palace in Denver just before five in the afternoon. He’d taken a room at Mrs. Lincoln’s boarding house, managed to get his broadcloth suit cleaned, and a bath at the bathhouse earlier in the day. He looked up at the blue sky with just a few puffy clouds off to the west, as he stepped off Red. “Well, don’t look like it’s going to rain, Red. Guess I can leave you tied right here.” He threw the reins over the railing, then loosened the girth as Red whinnied and stamped. “Hey now. You got fed and watered, and you get to just stand here.”

Red peeled his lips back and nipped at Rio’s sleeve, prompting a swat on the nose. “Stop that!” He stepped up on the boardwalk and walked slowly toward the restaurant door, Long ride, maybe for nothing. But if we get a contract for beef, that’ll help. And that cowboy at the boarding house said he saw some Rafter H cows being driven to the west two days ago. He stepped into the restaurant, and immediately moved to the right, out of the doorway. Looking around he saw tables full of prosperous looking men, and sighed as a waiter came up. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I’m supposed to meet a Mr. Evans, and a Mr. Marshall here.”

“Right this way, sir.” The waiter led him to a table situated with a view of the room, and one open seat. “Mr. Marshall, this gentleman was asking after you.”

A tall bearded man stood. “I’m Joseph Marshall.” The second bearded man, obviously a miner, stood. “My associate, Rene LeBlanc.” He pointed to the third man. “Ethan Mettier. He owns the Red Cloud Mine.” He extended his hand and Rio shook it. LeBlanc merely looked at him, nodded, then sat. Rio took that as a cue, pulled out a chair and sat down facing them.

“Rio Hackett, Mr. Marshall. I’m repping for the Rafter H ranch, I understand you are looking for cattle to supply your operations?”

The waiter asked, “Would you like anything?”

“A cup of coffee please.”

Marshall looked at him suspiciously. “You are authorized to speak for this ranch?”

Rio sighed inwardly, reached into his suit pocket, pulled out the letter from the bank in Fort Collins, and passed it over. “This is a statement to that effect from the bank in Fort Collins. It gives me authorization to make commitments, contracts, and authorize money to be spent.”

Marshall looked it over closely, then passed it across to Mettier, who merely glanced at it before handing it back. “How did you find out that we wanted cattle?”

“The banker alerted us to your agent’s request for a reliable source for cattle. He said you’re looking for fifty head a month?”

Marshall nodded. “Fifty head a month, no culls, no heifers. Good beeves. Twenty dollars a head.”

Rio couldn’t help but laugh. “Twenty dollars a head? No. Twenty a head is what they pay in Dodge City, for three or four thousand cows at a time. Going rate right now is twenty-six for a cow, sixty-two for a three year old steer. We have a mixed herd, mostly steers, so thirty-five a head would be about right.”

Marshall glared at him. “Do you take me for a fool? There is no way—”

Rio bristled. “Mr. Marshall, I’m not a kid. You’re a man that needs cattle for your operation. We have those cattle. There aren’t that many ranches in this area, matter of fact, we’d have to drive them about fifty miles to get them to you. That’s…three, maybe four days. Cowboys get thirty to forty a month and found, so you’re looking at…roughly seventy dollars just to pay them. Now that assumes they don’t have a problem with a horse. A good cow pony is a hundred and fifty—”

Mettier laughed. “Joseph, he’s got you over a barrel. You know that as well as I do. Mr. Hackett, I need fifty head a month for the mine. I will pay thirty-five a head for them, delivered to Boulder, regardless of what Mr. Marshall decides to do. I’d like them delivered by the fifth of the month, and I am willing to sign a year contract.”

LeBlanc growled at Mettier, and started to get up, but Marshall said quietly, “No.” He turned to Rio and said gracelessly, “Fine. Thirty-five a head. Delivered to my mining operation. Fifty cows a month. Delivered within one day of the fifth. I reserve the right to refuse any cattle that do not meet our standards.”

Rio nodded. “Understood and agreed.” The waiter delivered his coffee, and he said, “Thank you,” waving off the cream and sugar bowl on the tray. He sipped it and continued, “It would be preferential to have your bank pay the ranch’s bank directly, that way there is no temptation to the cowboys to disappear with the money.” He stuck out his hand. “Deal?”

Marshall grimaced, but shook his hand. “Deal.”

Mettier did the same, but with a smile. “Deal. I work with a lawyer here in Denver, I can have him draw up a contract tomorrow, if that would be acceptable.”

Rio smiled. “Fine by me.”

Mettier waved the waiter down. “I would like to order now.” He gestured to Rio. “I will pay for his meal also.”

Rio nodded in thanks, then ordered the same thing Mettier did, which was a middle sized steak with the trimmings. They had finished eating and Rio was dawdling over a cup of coffee as the others had brandy, when a silver haired, mustachioed man stopped by the table. Marshall jumped up with alacrity. “Judge Archer. How are you this evening, sir?”

The rest of them got up, as the Judge said, “Fair to middlin’ Joseph. You paying your miners a fair wage these days?”

Marshall visibly restrained himself as he said quietly, “I’ve upped their pay, and revised the company store procedures. There has not been but one or two bobtail paychecks a month since then.”

“Good. That means I don’t have to send the law up there again, do I?” Marshall shook his head, and the Judge nodded to LeBlanc and Mettier. He turned to Rio. “I don’t believe I know you.”

“Rio Hackett, sir. I’m a…cowboy…I’m repping for the Rafter H brand.”

The judge cocked his head. “Hackett, unusual name. And you sound like a Texan.”

Rio smiled. “Guilty, sir. Del Rio.”

The judge stuck out his hand. “Well, welcome to Denver. I don’t think you’re going to like the winters up here. Better get yourself some woolies if you’re going to punch cows in the winter.”

“Yes, sir.” The judge walked off, and Rio said, “If you will excuse me, I need to go take care of my horse.”

Mettier said, “My lawyer is Albert Barnes, his office is in the First National Bank building. I will meet you there at ten in the morning.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be there. Good night, gentlemen.” Rio slipped the waiter a silver dollar on his way out with a mumbled, “Thank you.” Once he got outside, he breathed a sigh of relief, and walked down to where Red was tied at the hitching rail.

Just as he got to Red, he heard a soft voice behind him. “Mr. Hackett?” He turned quickly, his hand automatically going to the gun he didn’t have on his hip, Damn, I knew I put that damn gun in my waistband. He realized he was staring at Judge Archer, as he started to pull the Peacemaker from his waistband.


“I did not mean to surprise you, sir. But I would like to meet with you privately in the morning, if that would be possible.”

Rio slipped the pistol back in his waistband as he replied, “Yes, sir. What time and where?”

The judge handed him a slip of paper. “This is my home address. Earlier is better. I am up by sunrise, and my wife sets an acceptable table for breakfast.” He saw two men walking toward them and said loudly, “Beautiful horse, young man. Would you be interested in selling it?”

Rio caught on and replied, “No, sir. This horse isn’t for sale.”

The judge smiled as he started walking away. “A pity, that would have been a nice horse to add to my stable. Take care, young man.”


Mrs. Lincoln saw Rio coming down the stairs, already dressed and said, “You’re up early, Cowboy. I’ve got coffee in the kitchen.”

Rio doffed his hat. “Thank you, Ma’am. Much appreciated. Too much time on the trail, and working from can to can’t growing up.” He followed her into the big kitchen behind the house and sat where she pointed, as she grabbed a tin cup from a cupboard and poured a cup of coffee. She set it on the table and he said, “Thank you.” Taking a sip, he added, “This is much better than Pronto’s coffee.”

She laughed. “It better be. I make it fresh. I don’t save the mother to use over and over again.” She bustled about, saying, “I have some honey if you want sweet. Biscuits will be out in about ten minutes.”

He waved her away. “No, thank you. Don’t want to get spoiled. And I’ve got a meeting to go to that’s a ways away, on the other side of town this morning.”

She nodded. “If you’re coming back, I’ll put a plate aside for you. You’ve already paid for it.”

“Don’t bother yourself, Ma’am. I’m not sure when I will be back, but I would like to stay another night.” He took out a silver dollar and laid it on the table. “You can give me change when I get back.” He finished the coffee and put the cup by the washtub, and headed out the back door to the stable. Ten minutes later, he rode Red quietly out of the stable, turned toward the east, and trotted down the street as the first rays of the sun peeked over the eastern horizon. He finally found Lark Avenue, and the white clapboard house with a barn behind it, just as the sun itself poked over the horizon. As he trotted down the lane, he saw the judge sitting on the front porch, smoking a pipe.

He stopped Red at the front steps as the judge got up. “Hitching post right there, Rio. Come on in, Martha has breakfast cooking. Hope you like ham, eggs, and biscuits.” Rio was a little startled by the judge’s friendliness, but he got down, tied Red to the hitching post, and stepped up on the porch, as the judge laughed. “You don’t remember me, do you, Rio?”

Rio looked at him then shook his head. “No, sir. Not that I can recall.”

The judge laughed again. “John said you probably wouldn’t. You were…I think nine or ten the last time I saw you.”

“You…know my father?”

The judge opened the screen and motioned Rio in. “We were in Terry’s Rangers during the war, Eighth Texas cavalry. Fought from Shiloh to Atlanta. After the war, I settled in Fort Worth and started practicing law again. I represented your father when he set up the H Bar ranch, and made sure all the Spanish, English, and Indian land deeds got correctly registered.” He led him into the kitchen, where a slim, attractive, grey haired lady was dishing out eggs onto plates. “Martha, this is John Hackett’s boy, Rio. This is my long suffering wife, Martha. Sit!”

She smiled as she slid a plate in front of him. “And a suffering it has been. All I do is slave over a hot stove day in and day out.” She laughed delightedly as the judge shook his head, and handed him a plate. She got her plate, set it on the table, and poured coffee in all the cups. “Sugar or milk?”

“Uh, no Ma’am. Black is fine. And this smells wonderful!”

She poked her husband with her fork. “See Robert, I do get compliments on my cooking.”

He laughed and replied, “From a cowboy, who will eat anything he doesn’t have to chase too far, and either gets it raw, or burnt over a campfire in the middle of the plains.”

Rio laughed and said, “Actually Pronto is a good cook. And the last thing you ever wanted to do was criticize his cooking, unless you wanted to have to wash dishes after every meal.” They turned to eating, and everything was quiet for a few minutes.

Once they’d finished, Martha poured more coffee, collected the plates, and stacked them in the wash basin as the judge poured hot water from the stove. He sat across from Rio and his expression changed. “Rio, I need your help.” He held up a hand as Rio started to speak. “I know about your little set to down in Del Rio, and I know you were cleared in that mess. I’m the federal judge for Colorado, and I need another Deputy US Marshal, but one that only I know about.”

Rio’s head swam, and he blurted, “But you fought for the…Confederacy. How…I thought—”

The judge chuckled. “Yes, I did. But I also read for the law at Dartmouth back in forty-two. Amos Ackerman was a classmate, and also served with the Confederacy. President Grant appointed him to head the Justice Department in seventy, and he appointed me in seventy-one, because he felt we needed qualified judges, regardless of which side they’d fought on. I’ve been out here since then, and I get along fine with Governor Evans. We’re going to probably get statehood this year, but we’ve got a lawless element that isn’t helping us at all. Between the mine owners, the miners, and the robbers, we have a bad reputation in Washington. I only have four US Marshals for the entire state, and I am not confident they are all above board.”

Rio sipped his coffee to give him time to think. “Sir, what…I mean, I have a job.”

The judge nodded. “Which is perfect. You move around a lot, you deal with a lot of people, including the mines, supplying cattle, right?”

He said cautiously, “Uh, yes, sir. But—”

“So you see things, and hear things. As a cowboy, you would be ignored, because you are beneath them, or so they think. Am I right?”

Rio nodded. “Yes, sir. Mr. Marshall—”

“Is an ass. And he doesn’t take care of his people well. But he makes money, that’s all his investors are worried about. Same thing with the mines in Georgetown, Leadville, and the others up around Gold Hill.” He looked sharply at Rio. “And you’re also missing cows, right?”

Martha came over with the coffee pot. “More coffee, Rio? Maybe it will help you get through the inquisition.” When he nodded, she poured him another cup, and glared at her husband.

The judge scrubbed his face, “John talked to me about what happened up in Boulder. I have…somebody up there keeping an eye on what is going on, and they mentioned that the Rafter H had lost cattle. Two men were seen over by the Georgetown road with a small herd of cattle, a week ago. One of those men was identified as Buck Styles, and they thought the other was Jack Henry. They are known gunfighters and rustlers, and were up around Boulder, apparently out of work. Now two and two is usually four.”

Rio nodded. “A cowboy told me he saw some Rafter H cattle north of town last week. I was going to…investigate that after I met with the mine owners.”

The judge smiled. “Texas style investigation, I assume?”

Rio took another sip of coffee, trying to think of how to answer that, when Martha said, “In case you haven’t noticed, my darling husband likes to hear himself talk. And Texas style is fine. At least out here he won’t have to ride miles to find a Cottonwood tree.” She smiled as the judge shook his head and mutely held up his coffee cup. She added, “Yes, I’m a Texas girl. My family had a ranch north of Fort Worth, and a few rustlers got hung down by the river.” She poured him a cup and walked back to the stove, shaking her head.

Rio finally said, “What would…I mean would I have to wear the badge? And how would I report to you?”

“Written reports are fine. And no, you would be…what they call undercover. The only time you would have to use the badge would be if you brought in criminals. And that would only be to the sheriff or town marshal where you put the criminals in jail. We have people who collect those prisoners and bring them to Denver for trial.”

“Would I have to come testify?”

The judge cocked his head. “I’m sure we could work something out.”

Rio got up. “Um, the outhouse?”

The judge replied, “Down the hall, out the back door, you’ll see it on the right.”

He went out and used the outhouse, I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. And I’ve got other responsibilities. But father raised us to do our duty. He did his, for all it cost him, and so did the judge. Can I do less? Especially if I’m going to stay here. He came out and stood for a minute looking off to the east seeing the sweep of land lit by the morning sun. He turned around and looked at the mountains rising to the west, towering over the city of Denver like sentinels guarding the approaches from the west. This isn’t Texas, it’s definitely different, the land, the people, even the weather. And it really is the frontier, where Texas was forty years ago. Texas was already a state before I was born, do I owe it to the Territory of Colorado to help it become a state? He mulled that over as he walked back into the house. Martha was in the kitchen by herself, and she handed him a fresh cup of coffee. “He’s on the front porch. Do what you think is right Rio. Don’t let him buffalo you into something you don’t want to do.

He took the cup with a nod. “I won’t, Ma’am. Thank you.” He walked slowly through the house, noting the plain but nice furnishings, and the homey feel. Stepping out onto the porch, he said, “Judge, I…will do what I can to help you. I don’t know how much good I can do—”

“Thank you. Wait here, please.” He set his pipe carefully on the porch rail next to his coffee cup and disappeared into the house, coming back moments later with a bible and his wife. “I’m going to swear you in, with Martha as a witness. I’ll get your commission signed today, but I will hold it in my office for now.” Martha held the bible while Rio was sworn in, and the judge handed him the round tin badge with the five pointed star in the center. Around the outer edge, it said DEPUTY US MARSHAL.

Rio bounced it in his hand as he looked at the two of them. “I’ll do my best.” He looked east, and added, “I need to get back to town. I have to go meet Mr. Mettier at his lawyer’s office to get that delivery contract for the cattle, then try to get Mr. Marshall to sign one too.”

“Mettier uses Albert Barnes, third floor of the First National Bank building. He’s…honest as far as lawyers go.”

Rio chuckled. “Is that damning your profession, Judge?’

The judge laughed. “Well, only some of them. But I’ve found that the truth is usually the last thing that gets in the courtroom during a trial.” He shook his head sadly, then added, “You’re a few miles from Greely, right? If you get over there on a regular basis, the easiest way to get a report to me would be to send it with the railroad.”

By late afternoon, Rio’s temper was frayed about to the breaking point, but he had two signed contracts in hand, and had enough of Mr. Marshall and his attitude. He posted the contracts back to the ranch, and headed back to Mrs. Lincoln’s boarding house, occasionally reaching in his vest to touch the marshal’s badge, What have a gotten myself into?

It’s amazing what is out there, among other things a list of prices from the 1870s for items from butter to yokes of oxen, etc. and it downloads as a .pdf. If you’re interested, use ‘1870 catalogue of goods‘ as the search term. A number of options present themselves for your ‘perusal’… (better known as a time sink)… Sigh…


Stray Western… — 21 Comments

  1. Oh, I’m looking forward to this!
    Seems the Muse may have a taste for tequila, or maybe Mezcal!!

  2. Hey Old NFO;

    Looks like your Muse hogtied you and threw you into the barn…I like it. Is this something totally different or you gonna loop it into the “Gray Man Verse”? Something to consider? 🙂

  3. YeeHaw, looking forward to the rest of this one…
    “climbed” off of Red doesn’t read true to me, possible sub would be “stepped” off.
    The only other things I can see is the the lack of ” marks at the end of “Hey now. You got fed and watered, and you get to just stand here.
    And the part that says “reached into his suit pocket.” Sub “vest” for “suit”

  4. RC- I’m beginning to wonder… sigh

    Bob- Nah, this will be a straight western. 1870s… ish…

    Ian- Thanks!

    Brig- Fixed. He was in a broadcloth suit, so he would have had a pocket in the suit jacket.

  5. Your research paid off, and the story “feels” right. My grandpa was born in 1876 (he was very old when I came along) and your story sounds like his boyhood recollections. More please, when time & Muse permit.

  6. Very entertaining. Would like to see more, if your muse allows.

  7. Damn. You mean I have to hold on to my money, and not spend it in wine, women, and song?
    You’re an evil man. I am away from my library, and wanting to re read the Maxwell books, have had to buy them on Kindle.
    Thanks John

  8. Your Muse grabbed me by the nose and wouldn’t let go!

    Is the cook named Proto or Pronto? Saw it both ways.

    “Cowboys get thirty to forty a month and found,” Sorry, I don’t unnerstan “found”.

    I favor “dismounted” for getting off Red, but that might be too highfalutin. 🙂

  9. Robert- Thanks, fixed. And ‘found’ is food and basic requirements, like horses to ride for work. Also repairs to tack (saddles, bridles, etc). Most also provided ammo. Some provided a gun, if the cowboy didn’t have one.

  10. Thanks for the clarification, ONFO. I guess I always assumed the cowboys had to supply all that. Makes sense, as getting a horse and all that gear would be quite the challenge for a cowboy who wasn’t already gainfully employed. What was the incentive for the cowboy to not take advantage of his employer’s largess and just vamoose? Texas justice?

  11. I noticed that the “c” in cottonwood was capitalized, and I think it should not be so.
    I tend to over capitalize in my writing, and so, am sensitive to it. John

  12. Hey, OldNFO – just saw where Sarah Hoyt gave you a nice plug on Instapundit this morning – well deserved!

  13. Here I am, late again to the party. I really like this!! More please Muse, ma’am.

    Just finished reading TGM Down South, and writing a review is on my to-do list this weekend. I really liked it as well!!